As a teenager, Lorna Pyke must have driven her driving instructor round the bend.

She failed her test four times and had a tendency to end up in a hedge.

Soon after scraping through the test, she signed up for a life of adventure by joining an Army driving corps near her home at Minehead in Somerset. Little did she know she would end up becoming a driving instructor herself.

Mrs Pyke, then Lorna Harman, joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in 1938 to learn to drive and maintain ambulances.

When war broke out she was called up and sent to a Royal Tank Corps camp at Bovington in Dorset to learn mechanics and carry out driving duties while living in freezing barracks with 20 other girls.

She said: "We girls met in the town hall at Minehead with a tin mug on our belts and a gas mask and it all seemed a bit of a laugh at the time.

"There were only three ambulances, a few staff cars and a van for collecting supplies from stores and delivering them around the coast to depots.

"It was some time before we got our uniforms but every day we went to a big hangar where we attended courses in mechanics and learned how to maintain our vehicles."

The group spent days in the pit servicing the vehicles, using wire brushes and paraffin-soaked rags to clean engine parts.

Mrs Pyke, now of Brighton, said: "Our mechanics lessons bored me to tears. I never could figure out what got the electricity to the rotor arm.

"Until I was called up and went to Bovington I had only driven my mother's little Ford 8. I can remember the confusion in trying to get a powerful car to go slowly.

"We eventually added a Ford V8 and a Humber Snipe to our fleet. They were the epitome of super-tough cars and they were terribly fast.

"On various occasions I had to collect an awe-inspiring brigadier and drive him across Salisbury Plain. After opening the back door and starting up, I got into the driving seat and we were off, sweeping right past Stonehenge.

"Quite soon hoarse, angry cries of 'Go slowly!' came from the back seat. I did try but it was either crawl or speed. Finally, in a very narrow street in Salisbury, the car stalled in a big traffic jam.

"I couldn't start it so had to get out and use the crank handle. The brigadier, moustache bristling with rage, got out and said 'Give it to me'.

"I did and he couldn't start it either. I think we were unceremoniously towed to a garage. But there the memory fades."

The girls took turns at carrying out the domestic tasks which kept camp life running smoothly, such as getting up at 6am to light fires underneath boilers in the six barrack houses and waiting at the table in the women officers' mess.

One welcome distraction from the monotony of mechanics lessons was the presence of a cavalry regiment being taught to drive tanks at the other end of the hangar.

Among them was Winston Churchill's son Randolph, who entertained the girls with his pet dog, a white Pekinese puppy which sat on his notebook during lessons.

The girls also enjoyed trips in the van to distribute to stores. Mrs Pyke said: "After we had loaded up at the depot, we delivered rations galore to an old stone house.

"Then we drove to the edge of the cliff and then to a tiny beach. We put on our bathing suits in the back of the van and gingerly ran down the cliff path, climbed through rolls of barbed wire and into the sea and didn't even think of the mines."

On one occasion the camp was thrown into turmoil in the early hours of the morning amid rumours of a German invasion.

Mrs Pyke said: "Every tank in the camp started up and rumbled off to Lulworth Cove five miles away.

"Our three ambulances went too. We heard via the grapevine that there was an invasion.

"The rest of us were left sitting on the stairs clutching knives, tennis racquets and anything else to protect our honour. One did in those days.

"By 4am most of us had crawled off into bed. Then at 6am the tanks and ambulances all came back and nothing had actually happened at all.

"However, three German parachutists were captured in the camp and incendiary bombs had been dropped in the peaty moorland soil and burned slowly underground so we were endlessly fire-fighting."

Mrs Pyke was then posted to Fowey in Cornwall. Then in 1941 she was sent to Camberley in Surrey as a driving instructor.

She said: "That made me gulp as I had failed my driving test four times, though I did pass it, just about.

"We were expected to instruct on 1500cc trucks and ambulances, which were open in the front in those days."

Many of the girls she was teaching had never even been in a car before but she was expected to teach them how to drive and maintain their vehicles.

She said: "On the whole instructing was a nice job. The girls were enthusiastic when they learned to turn an ambulance on a sixpence and I never heard of anyone who failed their course."

After some time in London on administration duty, Mrs Pyke spent the end of the war in Plymouth.

She said: "I was there for the D-Day invasion and remember the strange peace all over town.

"There were no young people to be seen anywhere, only old people. But, having driven round the coast to different depots, we knew D-Day was coming as there were so many barges under camouflage nets in every little nook and cranny.

"Quite soon we could hear the guns across the sea from France."